Oakland Teachers Went on Strike for Seven Days and Won

Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP Photo)

Members of the Oakland Education Association voted on Sunday to ratify their new contract, the union announced, bringing an end to a weeklong teachers strike and notching yet another union victory.

After seven days on strike, Oakland teachers secured 11 percent raises and a slew of school staff and facility improvements in their new contract. The vote to ratify the contract on Sunday afternoon means the 3,000 teachers that joined the strike will return to their classrooms this morning.

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Going into the negotiations, the OEA was asking the Oakland Unified School District for 12 percent raises, a delay on school closures with high percentage minority populations, and smaller class sizes. In negotiations the day before the strike, the district said the best it could do was seven percent raises and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. Believing they deserved a fairer contract, the OEA voted to go on strike on Feb. 21.

The bargaining committees for the two sides met numerous times during the strike, but not without conflict—the district repeatedly failed to meet the teachers’ requests, countering with 8.5 percent raises over four years and claiming the money was simply not there for anything more. The OEA team pointed to the bloated salaries paid to district administrators and countered by cancelling one of their bargaining sessions and leaving another session after just one hour of negotiations.

Given the Oakland district is home to 86 schools and 36,000 students, the teachers and their union understood the pressure on the district officials to bring the strike to an end sooner rather than later. The patience and commitment to a fair contract paid off. On Friday, the OEA announced they had finally secured a fair deal for their members.

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The tentative agreement—which was ratified on Sunday afternoon, with 64 percent voting in favor of the deal—grants Oakland public school teachers an 11 percent salary increase over four years, plus a three percent bonus upon ratification. Additionally, the contract carves out funding for increasing the number of counselors and various medical assistant positions, a one-student reduction in high school class sizes starting the 2019-2020 school year, and moratoriums on both public school closures and charter school openings. (That last one was a big win, given that one of the fears heading into the coming school year was that numerous schools with large African-American and Hispanic student populations would be shuttered and their students grouped into charter schools.)

The victory by the Oakland teachers now marks the third time in just two months that the teacher workforce of a major American city has gone on strike and managed to secure the raises and classroom funding it needs—unions in Los Angeles and Denver both secured long-overdue salary increases and more equitable school funding after opting for direct action. That’s in addition to the recent strike by teachers unions in West Virginia and the “sickouts” held by Kentucky teachers after the state legislature tried to gut their budgets and retirement plans, respectively.

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Maybe—and this is only one guy’s idea—state governments and school districts should start adequately funding their schools before their teachers and their unions are forced to hand them their ass in a strike, not after. Just spitballing, though.

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